Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:41 pm 
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Marissa O'Donnell, Nat Wolf, bottom; top, Chace Crawford, Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Hippies right here now

In Beresford's new movie a prissy New York executive (Kyle MacLachlan) tells his uptight lawyer wife Diane (Catherine Keener) that he's divorcing her, and to postpone dealing with this development she takes son and daughter Jake and Zoe (Nat Wolf and Elizabeth Olsen) to visit her hippie mother Grace (Jane Fonda) in Woodstock, New York after twenty years of estrangement, during which she has never seen her grandkids. This, like the February-released comedy Wanderlust, assumes that America contains unspoiled pockets of total Sixties hippiedom, pot, free love, long hair, vinyl records, the whole schmear. Wanderlust milks this imaginary situation and attendant stereotypes for all the laughs it can get. Beresford has other aims in mind. According to his screenplay, penned by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert, the stereotypes are just as true and colorful and silly. Even an antiwar demonstration is made fun of, disregarding the fact that the Occupy movement makes populist activism seem pretty serious these days.

But this time the stereotypes hide the seeds of redemption: these city slickers are going to be saved. Diane's disapproval of nearly everything in Woodstock will not survive a drunken women's full moon celebration, or the wooing of the charming Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who pulls her up to sing the Band's "The Weight" with him on a stage in front of the whole hippie town and kisses her, which leads to much more later at his house. And in this midsummer night's dream, her kids pair off too, Zoe with principled organic butcher Cole (Chace Crawford) -- despite intense ideological clashes (she's a vegetarian), Jake with the sweet young Tara (Marissa O'Donnell). Jake's too geeky and young and busy shooting video footage for an arty Werner Herzog-inspired short film of this trip to go all the way with Tara, but he totally overcomes his notion that he and girls are not meant to be, and wins a prize with the film (which we get to see) as well as a precious "well done" from his dad.

Perhaps none of this is deeply memorable, but it's both fun and touching. Wolf is mercurial and funny as Jake, Fonda is an irrepressible hoot as Grace, Olsen is astonishing as the hyper-articulate Zoe, Morgan is soulful, Crawford is gorgeous and Keener is mean, a schtick she's got own pat.

This whole movie feels like it's designed for Diane's unwinding. But we realize how much the Woodstock experiences might mean when we see Jake's film (and actor Wolf himself made a film of his family as a pre-teen). It's a neat portrait of the artist as a young filmmaker that shows how "coming of age" works: events are hyperreal and intensified in Jake's Herzog-inspired reediting so they become etched as heroic. Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding has the format of classic comedy, ending in reconciliation. Not of husband and wife -- MacLachlan moves out as soon as they return to New York, but of Grace and Diane, who learns to let go all her hoarded resentments.

The trouble with Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is that it all happens too easily. The Sixties hippie cliches get in the way of real family clashing: Diane's problems with Grace aren't individualized. The other trouble is that so little happens. Arguments between Zoe and Cole about the ethics of food; cute but standard fumblings between Jake and Tara; "Take a load off" and a kiss; an unsurprising revelation at the women's drunken full moon celebration -- all this doesn't quite add up to solid fare. This Woodstock recreation is an awfully easy way to loosen people up, and there's not enough ingenuity or complication in the plot. Beresford, who directed Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant and The Fringe Dwellers, is relatively speaking just coasting here. But Peace, Love &c is a fluent, sure-fire crowd-pleaser with an appealing cast that touches the heart and brings many smiles.

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding debuted at Toronto in September 2011, and went into limited theatrical release in the US June 8, 2012.

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